Charles Dove, a second-year EECS PhD student and Berkeley’s 2021 Hertz Fellow, uses artificial intelligence to mold and interpret the complex physics of light. With new modeling technologies and a passion for understanding, Dove is reimagining the way light-based imaging is done.

“Something that I find amazing about the world is just how incredibly detailed it is. And how the vast majority of that detail, that complex information, is hidden away at first glance,” Dove explained.

“If you look at your hand, for instance, the first thing you notice is probably four fingers and a thumb. Look a little closer and you might see the swirls of fingerprints or little blood vessels.

There’s all this beautiful complexity out there, in biology, in materials, in physics— that’s difficult to access, but fundamental to our health, technology, and understanding of the world.

“Something I’m excited about is using light, combined with computer modeling and AI, to access and interpret that hidden complexity,” Dove finished.

Growing up in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Dove identifies his parents and science fiction books as major influences behind his love of science. When asked if it was possible to recall a particular moment or memory that shifted his relationship with science Dove recalls:

“I remember going down to this creek by my grandmother’s house when I was kid and thinking how beautiful it was, how the water flowed. I remember holding my fingers in the water and watching the flow swirl and play around them, and just being mesmerized by how the water moved. I think, honestly, it’s experiences like that which grew into my love of hands-on science. It really reinforced for me the idea that the universe is there—and it’s something you can reach out and touch!”

A strong believer in the value of hands-on scientific learning, Dove has founded and led multiple student organizations, including one which has built NASA-launched research satellites and another which develops nuclear fusion devices. Dove has also championed hands-on scientific teaching in the community, creating and teaching semester-long educational programs for children and teens which use project-based learning to “show young people the beauty and joy of science and technology.”

“It’s just incredibly fun to learn things by doing. When you build something, when you really interface with all the complexity, difficulty, and beauty of making something real, it helps you see just how vibrant and alive the world is. That’s something I’ve tried to share through the programs I’ve built, giving young people the tools and guidance for open-ended exploration of a topic like chemistry or coding or electricity.”

Dove recently received the 2021 Hertz Fellowship, which provides recipients five years of PhD funding and aims to give the nation’s most promising graduate students in science and technology “the freedom to pursue innovative research wherever it may lead.” Dove plans to use this award to continue his work with light, imaging, and AI, with the goal to innovate in ways that are “useful and that directly help people.”

Ultimately, if Dove could say one thing to young people it would be this:

“They’ll probably tell you in school that things are simple, that there’s a formula for this, and a simple explanation for that, and that things have mostly all been figured out. They may not know it, but they’re lying to you! The real universe is nuts. It’s beautiful and complicated. It’s wild and riotous and weird, and it’s waiting for you to understand it. Do you want to understand the true nature of consciousness? Do you want to plumb the depths of a quasar? Do you want to heal the sick and save the planet? Do you want to interface with the raw beautiful complexity of a wild and wonderful universe? You can!

Hold onto your curiosity and find joy in the process of learning, and you really can change the world. And remember that complexity isn’t something to fear. Complexity and nonconformity, in humans or physics, is just a form of beauty that calls us to greater understanding.”

To learn more about light, AI, and imaging, Dove recommends the following resources:

1. The Surprising Physics of Light

2. Artificial Neural Networks for AI

3. Optics Demos and Activities